Comic Book Review: Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #21

The last issue of Iron Man was a pretty good read. It certainly was one of the few obligatory World War Hulk tie-in issues that I actually enjoyed reading. Gage is doing a nice job filling in for the Knaufs on this title. However, I’m a huge fan of the Knaufs and I’m glad that they are returning with Iron Man #21. I’m positive that the Knaufs will deliver yet another excellent read. Let’s go ahead and do this review for Iron Man #21.

Creative Team
Writers: Daniel and Charles Knauf
Artist: Roberto De La Torre

Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10.
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10.
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10.

Synopsis: We begin with two super heroes, Paragon and Gadget, who are a part of the Initiative assigned to Nebraska investigating an alarm at a water supply facility. They investigate the old abandoned pumping station. There they find Graviton hiding behind a machine. When Gadget tells Graviton to come out from behind the machine, Graviton responds “The machine is behind you, child.” We then hear Gadget scream.

We cut to Tony in his penthouse at Stark Tower. Suddenly, captain America appears before him. Captain America attacks Tony. Tony says that Steve is dead and he can’t be real. Captain America takes off his mask and says he is a figment of Tony’s imagination. Captain America then says “The writing is Malukkian.”

Tony wakes up and goes to his computer and look at footage of the writing on the wall at the Chinese facility where the Mandarin was being kept. We zip forward to the morning with Tony meeting with Secretary of Defense Jack Kooning. Tony says that only the Mandarin can decipher Malukkian script. That a month after the Mandarin went missing a John Doe was admitted to the Chinese mental facility. The John Doe had no hands.

That Najeeb was on a quest for ancient artifacts which were the Mandarin’s rings. Najeeb was going to give them back to the Mandarin in hopes to forge an alliance between the two. Mandarin killed Najeeb and then Najeeb’s former right hand man, Faraz started working for Mandarin. Faraz recruited terrorists and supplied them with advanced biomods. It was all a distraction to keep SHIELD busy while Mandarin went after what he truly wanted: Maya Hansen and Extremis.

Jack Kooning doesn’t buy Tony’s theory since Jack says Faraz took responsibility for all the terrorist activity. And also because five hours ago Maya Hansen was found dead in her hotel bathroom. She killed herself and left behind a suicide note. Jack tells Tony it is time to stop chasing ghosts.

Suddenly, Maria Hill calls Tony and tells him they have a situation. We cut to Tony on the SHIELD Helicarrier just arriving in Omaha, Nebraska. Tony is filled in on the situation concerning Graviton and the two Initiative heroes in Paragon and Gadget. Gadget has gone missing and Paragon is in the hospital and should recover just fine.

Iron Man then arrives at the hospital where Paragon is located. There Iron Man meets up with Captain Ultra who is responsible for the Nebraska team. Ultra tells Iron Man that he heard Gadget was Tony’s protégé. Iron Man responds that he didn’t know her. That a million gifted kids who cobbled together armor in their garages sent him letters and considered them his protégés. Tony remembers getting letter from Gadget when she was a little kid.

Iron Man and Ultra then talk with Paragon. Paragon mentions how Graviton paralyzed Gadget in some kind of force field, she started screaming and then there was an explosion. Paragon then tells Iron Man that just before Graviton attacked he said “The machine is behind you, child.”

Iron Man contacts the Helicarrier and orders a search team to sift through the material already taken from the blast site and look with mass-analysis scanners. We cut to Iron Man and Mariah Hill in the Helicarier that is located over the blast site. They are examining a ball of flesh, bone, silicon and alloys that was Gadget all compressed into a ball the size of a billiards ball. Maria comments on what a horrible way to die that must have been. Iron Man responds that it was actually relatively quick and painless.

Suddenly, Gadget as a little girl appears in front of Iron Man and says “Who’s behind the machine, Tony?” Iron Man orders Maria Hill to have Graviton transferred to a holding cell within the Helicarrier and to have a medical team on hand.

We cut to the headquarters of Prometheus Gentech where Tem Borjigin is standing with Maya Hansen. They stare at the SHIELD Helicarrier that is in the sky near their building. Maya is nervous and says that Tony is too close for comfort. Tem reassures Maya that Tony will be gone soon and that Maya needs to focus on her Extremis research.

Maya says that they are still years away from animal testing and decades from clinical trials with human subjects. Tem agrees that medical research takes a long time and that they rarely see the full benefits of their efforts in their own lifetimes. They sacrifice the present in exchange for the future. A brighter future for all mankind.

We then see a lab full of containers with human bodies inside of them. End of issue.

The Good: Iron Man #21 was another excellent read. The Knaufs deliver a well paced and plotted issue. I like the steady and measured pacing of this story. The Knaufs are masters at employing a deliberate pace while putting into place a complex story with multiple detailed plotlines. Brubaker is the only other comic book writer that can come close to the Knaufs with this style of storytelling.

I dig how every single detail and plotline no matter how small is important. The Knaufs don’t do anything without a purpose. It is enjoyable watching all the different plotlines, large and small, all fit together and build off each other.

The Knaufs dole out plenty more of their usual excellent dialogue. The dialogue is richly crafted and has a pleasant flow. The Knaufs have also made a serious effort to deliver fully developed characters. These complex characters interact nicely together.

The Knaufs still write the best Tony Stark that I have read in an extremely long time. Possibly ever. I love how Tony is always in command and takes no shit from anyone and always seems to have a plan. Tony has an ego and is supremely confident in his brilliant mind. However, in private we see a deeply troubled Tony who is clearly plagued by inner demons.

I dig the two scenes where Tony is visited by ghosts. First Captain America and then Gadget as a young girl. Each time, the ghost provides Tony the information necessary to make the next step in deciphering a mystery. It is cool seeing The Knaufs channeling their inner David Lynch and giving this title an unusually surreal feel. Iron Man has always been a title rooted in Science Fiction. The Knaufs’ approach has been a real departure with a metaphysical approach to this title. And for anyone familiar with Daniel Knauf’s work on HBO’s Carnivale this style of storytelling should come as no surprise.

I enjoyed how Tony handled Gadget’s death. It was a neat twist that Tony revealed that Gadget was not a protégé. That Gadget was just one in a million of kids who idolized him. It was unexpected to see Tony reduce Gadget to just one of a million faceless kids who sent him letter throughout his career. And this is further magnified by Tony’s rather cold scientific analysis of Gadget’s death. Hill’s reaction is what any normal person would think upon seeing such a horrific death. Tony’s matter of fact logic based reaction is totally foreign to the reader.

The Knaufs then contrasting Tony’s detached scientific approach to Gadget’s death is then highlighted by the appearance of gadget’s ghost who asks Tony the question “Who is behind the machine.” The Knaufs have done an incredible job showing how Tony is increasingly hiding his human side behind his armor and technology. Tony is becoming more iron than man.

Graviton is a character that I have always thought was a bit cheesy. Not anymore. The Knaufs give us one incredible dark, twisted and creepy version of Graviton. I’m interested to learn more about Graviton’s cryptic statement about “the machine.” The scene with Graviton and Gadget continues the eerie and bizarre feel that the Knaufs are bringing to this title.

It was cool seeing a couple of Initiative heroes at work. We see a news report mentioning how there are increasing issues and protests over the quality of the government training for the super heroes operating under the Initiative. And that there have been numerous deaths. I guess this is the approach that Marvel is going to take to show the deficiencies of the Initiative in order to lead to the repealing of the SHRA.

I also liked the touch of showing how Ultra has been put out to pasture in Nebraska. The Initiative has not only provided an avenue for new heroes, but it has also given old worn out heroes a new chance at reviving their careers.

The Knaufs serve up a great hook ending with the revelation that Maya Hansen is actually alive and well. Prometheus Gentech staged Maya’s “suicide” in order to throw Tony off her trail. Tem continues to display his craftiness as Maya honestly has no clue how evil of a man she has aligned herself with. And what is up with that lab full of containers with human bodies in them? This plotline should definitely be rather interesting.

De La Torre is not the artist that I would ever pick for a title like Iron Man. Having said that, De La Torre’s artwork is certainly a perfect match for the dark, eerie and surreal mood that the Knaufs are creating on this title.

The Bad: My only quibble would be that De La Torre draws one of the dullest looking versions of Iron Man.

Overall: Iron Man #21 was another excellent read. The Knaufs continue to craft gem after gem on this title. Iron Man is absolutely one of the best written titles that Marvel is currently publishing. If you enjoy strong writing and a touch of the bizarre then definitely give Iron Man a try.


  1. Tony Stark really needs to find a way to get to DC and talk to Batman and get his shit straight, for real.

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